Second Reformed Church

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

This Week

The pastor is in school through Thursday and is unavailable.  If you are in need, please call a member of the Consistory.

Our evening studies will resume, D.V., in June -- watch for the announcement.

"They Worshiped Him" Sermon: Matthew 28:1-10

"They Worshiped Him”
[Matthew 28:1-10]
April 24, 2011 Second Reformed Church

After His late-night trial, Jesus was handed over to the governor, the Roman, Pontius Pilate. He was tortured, loosing massive amounts of blood. He was crucified, hanging on a cross for three hours until He died. And then, to make sure their was no life in Him, a centurion pierced His side with a spear and ruptured His heart. Jesus was dead.

They quickly buried Jesus, but didn’t finish the burial preparations because the Sabbath was upon them, and it was against the law to work on the Sabbath. So the women planned to return to finish their preparations after the Sabbath, but they knew that a massive stone had been rolled in front of the tomb to keep anyone from stealing the Body and a guard of centurions – perhaps as many as sixteen centurions – we stationed in front of the tomb, and the women had no idea how they would get in.

Still, in faith, at the dawn of the first day of the week, Sunday, Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, and Salome, and a number of other women headed off for the tomb to finish the burial preparations. And on their way, there was a great earthquake.

Once they reached the tomb, they understood what had happened: the angel of the Lord had descended from heaven and hit the earth with such force that he caused an earthquake. And then he rolled the stone away – the sixteen, muscle-bound centurions all fainted as though dead at seeing the arrival of the angel – and the angel sat on top of the stone.

Even when angels appear in the form of humans, they are terrifying: we’re told that his appearance was like lightning and his clothing was white as snow. The angels of heaven are holy, and though the light of holiness that emanates from them is nowhere near as strong as the Light of the Glory of God Himself, it is still a blinding light – stronger than any light we have ever seen on earth.

And the women were filled with fear, because they didn’t know what was happening – why an angel of the Lord had appeared in their presence. But the angel spoke words of comfort to them, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.”

Is that why you’re here this morning? Do you believe the tomb was empty? Do you believe that Jesus physically rose from the dead and is alive? Or is something else more likely?

Could it be that the small band of women overpowered the sixteen centurions and then convinced them to lie to the chief priests about what happened?

Could it be that the women devised some sort of pyrotechnics display, which was buffeted by a convenient earthquake, and then pushed the massive stone out and away from the tomb?

Could they all have come up with the story about the angel and kept the story straight and stood by it for the rest of their lives? (Don’t doubt that they were questioned and questioned again for the rest of their lives about that morning )

Could they have stolen Jesus’ Body and hid it so no one would ever find it, yet stick to the story that He was alive for the rest of their lives, without deviation, and be willing to suffer and die for it?

Could they have found a look-alike, bearing crucifixion wounds, Who could appear and disappear and walk through walls and cause one hundred and fifty-three fish to jump into a boat and convince His closest disciples – whom He had spent three intimate years with – that He was the risen Jesus – Someone Whom they would be willing to die for even then?

Or does it make more sense, as unusual as it is, to believe that the history is true – that Jesus physically rose from the dead?

The women looked into the tomb – it was empty. The burial clothes were there on the slab where He had been laid, but the Body – Jesus – was gone.

So they ran from the tomb filled with fear and joy – they didn’t know how Jesus had risen from the dead – they didn’t understand the full implications of what it meant – but they knew Jesus was alive. Their Teacher, their Friend, the One they believed was the fulfillment of the prophecy of God’s Savior – He was alive

So they ran to tell the disciples, “Men, come out of hiding. Jesus is alive ”

And as they ran back to tell the disciples, Jesus met them, “Greetings ” The word that is used is a greeting, but the implication is greater than our English word, “greetings ” Jesus said, “Rejoice Be filled with joy Be delighted It is I.”

And they went up to Him and fell at His Feet and grabbed hold of them, and they worshiped Him.

Do we remember how the Ten Commandments begins? (In the Bible, not the movie.)

The first two commandments, as we divide them, read: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Exodus 20:2-6, ESV).

What was God commanding?

The Heidelberg Catechism explains that this means that we are not to be involved in any sort of idolatry. We are not to pray to any human or any creature. We are to acknowledge that there is One and Only One True God, trust in Him alone, and look to Him, humbly and patiently for everything that we need, worshiping God and God Alone. We are to be willing to live without and/or give up anything that goes against God’s Will in any way. We are not to worship God through images or statues or pictures, but in spirit and truth alone – that is, as God has commanded and taught in the Scripture.

It would be a sin, then, to worship a mere human being.

Our Scripture tells us the women “departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell the disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings [Rejoice Be filled with joy Be delighted It is I.]’ And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him.”

These were devout Jewish women who were looking for the Savior that God promised according to the Scripture. So for them to worship Jesus, we can only conclude one thing: they believed that He is God.

And that is what the Church concluded in its earliest years: the only way for Jesus to take our place before God was for Him to be a real human being, and the only way for Jesus to survive God’s Wrath for our sin and earn the righteousness we need to be right with God, is if Jesus is God Himself.

Paul taught that Jesus is God: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8, ESV).

Peter taught that Jesus is God: “[Jesus’] divine power has granted us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence” (II Peter 1:3, ESV).

It was necessary for the Savior God sent to be both completely human and completely God, so He could legally be our Substitute and survive the punishment for our sin. Since Jesus did come as our Substitute and suffer that we might be forgiven – and He survived and lives, He is worthy of our worship.

“Greetings ” indeed Jesus is risen Rejoice Be filled with joy Be delighted Jesus has paid our debt and made us righteous before God – and He is changing us from glory to glory into the Image of the Son.

That is why we are here – that is why we can rejoice in knowing that Jesus did rise from the dead – because Jesus is the One True God – the One Who is worthy of all worship. That is why we gather – and that is why we do anything and everything we do here – because Jesus is worthy of worship as God.

Paul tells us that the day is coming when everyone who ever lived will know that Jesus is God, “so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11, ESV).

And we have this picture of worshiping Jesus from John: “And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying,

“‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood your ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.’

“Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of myriad angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice,

“‘ Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing ’

“And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,

“‘To him who sits upon the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever ’ And the living creatures said, ‘Amen ’ and the elders fell down and worshiped” (Revelation 5:6-14, ESV).

Jesus’ Resurrection makes it clear that He is God, because He is worthy of worship, and only God is worthy of worship. Let us hold fast to the Truth of the Resurrection and worship our God and Savior. Let us show others in what we do and say and how we live before the Face of God, that we truly believe.

And let us come to the Sacrament, expectantly, believing that we will meet with the same Jesus Who rose from the dead two thousand years ago. That our God will meet with us and give us His Grace that we might be His people and have the strength and ability through Him to accomplish all He calls us to do.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, You Who came to earth and lived and died and rose again, You are worthy of all worship, and we humbly come before You in prayer asking that You would direct us towards Your Face – that we would seek You and long for You and declare Your Worth in everything we do and say and are. Minister to us now that we might worship You all the more. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Friday, April 22, 2011

"Open & Secret" Sermon: John 18:19-24

“Open & Secret”
[John 18:19-24]
April 22, 2011 Second Reformed Church

After Jesus and His disciples celebrated the Passover and Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. When He finished, Judas, the betrayer, came, and with him a band of Roman soldiers and officials from the high priests and the Pharisees.

Judas walked up to Jesus and kissed Him – the sign that this was the Man they were coming to arrest, and they bound Jesus took Him to the home of the high priest where Annas was waiting. Peter and John went with Jesus, but Peter waited outside; John went in. This is where our Scripture picks up.

It was after midnight when they began to question Jesus, and it was illegal to hold a trial at night, still they began to browbeat Jesus with questions about His disciples and His teachings. The high priest and his retinue revealed the depths of their corruption, not merely because they were illegally trying Jesus, but because they brought no indictment forward – they brought no witnesses against Jesus (at this time). Their plan was for Jesus to trip up and provide them with evidence that they could convict Him with.

“Who are Your disciples? Where do they work? What are their views on Rome? Do they follow God’s Law? What do You teach? What are Your views on the Scripture?”

They were hoping that Jesus would say something new, something novel, something that went against the received teaching of the Scripture. But Jesus would have none of their games.

“I have spoken openly to the world.” “I don’t teach a secret knowledge or a secret way to God. Everything I have taught has been out in the open – to the world. Not just to My inner circle, not just My disciples, not just the Jews – I have preached to the whole world – to anyone and everyone who would listen, I taught the same things of God, openly.”

“I have always taught in the synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret.” “I have spoken in the Temple and the synagogues, in front of crowds – in the accepted forums, in the legal venues, where anyone could hear Me, and where everyone knows to go to hear preaching and discussions. I have said nothing in secret. The Truth of God and His Salvation – the Gospel that I preach – is not a secret – there is no secret teaching that one has to learn or a secret knowledge that one has to achieve to get to a higher level with God.”

Paul explained to the Corinthians, “But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God” (II Corinthians 4:2, ESV).

In the early Church, there arose numerous groups of false teachers that we now call Gnostics – from the Greek word for “knowledge.” The thing that these false teachers all had in common was that they taught that Jesus and His Gospel were good for the common people, but, if you really wanted to be spiritual, if you really want to ascend to the heavens, there is a secret knowledge – a secret interpretation, that you need to be able to discern.

Paul told the Corinthians that this is nonsense: the Gospel of Jesus Christ is straightforward, and it is the same for every person, and it is proclaimed openly in every place. The Gospel is the same for every person – no secret knowledge or learning is necessary to receive the Gospel and God’s Salvation. Paul told the Corinthians - this is the Gospel, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scripture, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep” (I Corinthians 15:3-6, ESV). This is the history of a Person – a human being – Who lived in the midst of people who saw Him and knew Him.

True Christianity has no secret message: the message is open and proclaimed outright: The Savior died for our sins in accordance with the Scripture. He was buried. On the third day He was raised from the dead, and He appeared to over five hundred people – most of whom you could still talk with in those days, as they were still alive – eyewitnesses to Jesus and the fact that He rose from the dead.

The Gnostics were not the only ones to teach that a secret knowledge is necessary to become right with God – to know God – to become God, as some false religions argue. The religious teachings of the Masons teach there is a secret knowledge of Jesus which is higher than what the common people receives and which is necessary for true enlightenment. The Jewish Kabbalah is all about a secret knowledge – not just red string bracelets. The Mormons teach there is a secret knowledge – first in their scripture and then in addition to their scripture. In Christian Science – it’s the secret knowledge and the realization that the material world doesn’t exist. Orthodox Jews believe that all of world history is secretly hidden in the Torah for the most enlightened to find. There are levels of enlightenment in Islam and Buddhism and Hinduism.

Isaiah prophesied of the Coming Savior, “I did not speak in secret, in a land of darkness; I did not say to the offspring of Jacob, ‘Seek me in vain.’ I the Lord speak the truth; I declare what is right” (Isaiah 45:19, ESV).

The Message of Jesus was open and clear to all those who had ears, “I am the Messiah. I am the Savior. I am the Christ. I am the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Son of Man. I am the Son of God. I and the Father are the Same One God. I am the God Who revealed Himself to Moses.”

Jesus’ Message has never been secret or hidden – it’s right out there for anyone to hear. And still, in this country, people of all religions are willing to say, “I don’t believe in Jesus as God the Savior, but I believe He was a good teacher.” Really? If one of the teachers in our public schools system told our children, “I want you to understand that I am god and the only hope for you and the world is to believe in me and follow me as your savior.” Would we really say, “Oh, isn’t he or she a good teacher ”

C. S. Lewis, in a famous quote, said that the one thing that is perfectly clear from the Gospels is that we cannot merely say Jesus was a good Teacher – that option is not open to us. If someone says that he is god, the only savior – that is not a good teacher – that person is either a liar, or a lunatic, or he is exactly who he says he is – God. There is no other choice.

The Message of Jesus was open and clear to all those who had ears, “I am the Messiah. I am the Savior. I am the Christ. I am the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Son of Man. I am the Son of God. I and the Father are the Same One God. I am the God Who revealed Himself to Moses.” There were and there are and there will forever be only three choices – three responses to Jesus’ claims: He’s a lair. He’s a lunatic. Or, yes, Jesus is God the Savior, just as He said He was.

In the first century, there were over five hundred eye-witnesses to Jesus’ Resurrection – and don’t you doubt for a moment that they were questioned and questioned and questioned. We have, in the Bible, the written testimony of a few of those who knew Jesus and testified to being eyewitnesses to His Resurrection from the dead.

If what Jesus said is open and clear now, it was even more so then. Jesus was there, in the flesh, speaking for Himself, testifying to Himself, day after day, for three years making the same claims about Himself. And the high priests and the Pharisees heard Him and knew His testimony – the claims He was making.

So Jesus said, “Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them; they know what I said.” “Annas, why are you asking me what I teach and what I believe about Myself. Are you denying that there are hundreds of witnesses who could testify to what I said? Are you denying that you, yourself, have heard Me on many occasions, and you know exactly what I teach and preach? Are you really pretending to be ignorant, high priest of God, of what all the common people of Israel know?”

Whack “Is that how You talk to the high priest? ”

“If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?”

They couldn’t say He was wrong. That hated what He was saying. But they couldn’t say He was wrong. They didn’t have any credible witnesses against Him. But they wouldn’t admit that He was right – that He was telling the truth. So, in frustration, they hit Him. And they tied Him up and sent Him away.

Dan Brown (and friends) with his The Da Vinci Code (and others) write impoverished imaginary historical novels that pretend to expose the secrets of Jesus and the Gospel. The books open by saying they are novels but everything in them is historically accurate. And we assume that they would never have any reason to lie.

Surely, the Pharisee and the high priests would never have a reason to lie about Jesus. They wouldn’t condemn Him in an illegal night trial and blackmail a Roman governor to have Jesus put to death...

Brothers and sisters, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not a secret. There are no mystical rites that we have to go through to understand it. There is no “higher life” we have to rise to to be “Real Christians.”

The Gospel is that God came to earth in the Person of Jesus Christ, lived, died for the sins of all those who would ever believe in Him, rose from the dead, and ascended back to His Throne at the Right Hand of the Father.

God came to earth, lived, died for our sins, rose, and ascend back.

“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9, ESV).

It is not a secret.

Years ago, my friend Tim and I worked in a Christian bookstore, and Billy Graham’s book How to Be Saved had come out. Tim picked up this two hundred or so page book and looked at it, then he looked at me and said, “I don’t think it’s that complicated, Billy.”

Jesus said, “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in the synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them; they know what I said.”

Don’t be confused:

God came to earth in the Person of Jesus Christ – openly, not in secret.

Jesus lived His life – openly, not in secret.

Jesus was taken by a mob, brought before the religious and political leaders, and a great crowd of Israel – openly, not in secret.

And on that first Good Friday, they crucified Him, and He died – openly, not in secret.

In a few minutes we will receive the Lord’s Supper, and we will remember the life and death of Jesus on that first Good Friday. But we will also meet with Jesus now – openly – in the bread and the cup, as He ministers to us, strengthening us with His Grace. And we will also find our hope renewed, believing that Jesus has risen from the dead and ascended back to the Father, and the day is soon coming when He will return in glory to bring us into His Glorious Kingdom – openly, and not in secret.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for coming to earth and living a public and open life, calling all people to receive You as God and Savior. As we consider that our sin sent You to the cross, may our seeing Your Image in Your Word cause us to repent and follow after You all the more diligently. And may we be open and tell others about what You have done for all those who will believe. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

"The Humility of Love" Sermon: John 13:1-17; 31b-35

“The Humility of Love”
[John 13:1-17; 31b-35]
April 21, 2011 Second Reformed Church

The Lectionary text is far too large for me to cover this evening, so I would like to have us look at the theme of “the humility of love” in this evening’s text and just point a few things out to us.

Let us begin with the question, have you ever had guests in your home? Have you ever taken off their shoes and washed their feet?

It helps us to understand our text to know that in Jesus’ day, people wore sandals, or just walked in their bare feet, so their feet would become filthy. For the sake of a guest being comfortable, and to keep the guest from traipsing dirt all over the house, the host would instruct the lowest of his servants to wash his visitor’s feet. It would be the lowest servant who would be commanded to wash the visitor’s feet because..., well, no one wants to wash feet.

With that in mind, let us look at our text:

Jesus had gathered to have a meal with His disciples before the Feast of the Passover. It was at this time that Jesus knew His time had come – He was ready to die and return to the Father. This was the time that the author of Hebrews wrote of: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2, ESV). Jesus knew it was His time, and He could look forward to it with joy, while despising the suffering He would endure, because of the greatness of the joy of returning from the world of sin and death to His Throne at the Right Hand of God.

And because He had loved all those that the Father had given Him, and because He had loved them until the end. Jesus was ready to die and return to the Father, because He had completed – and was completing His Mission – which was one of humbled love – that God would humble Himself in love of His elect to come to earth in human flesh, live, die for our sin according to the Scripture, and rise, ascending back to the Father. He loved us enough to purchase us with Himself: “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price” (I Corinthians 6:19b-20a, ESV).

And He loves us until then end. What does that mean? It means that Jesus loves us throughout our lives until the end of our lives, but it also means that He loves us to the furthest extent and to the depths of our need. Jesus loves us from sinful destitution to glory in the Kingdom. Jesus loves us from before the Creation. He loves us when we hated Him. He loves us when we received Him. He loves us when we continue to sin against Him. And He will love us until He receives us into glory to sin no more.

This love for all those who would believe in Jesus Alone was not diminished by Judas’ betrayal – Jesus knew that Judas was going to betray Him – it had been prophesied and was necessary.

Jesus knew that the Father have given Him everything: He had come from the Father – He was God, Himself, and He was returning to the Father, rejoicing with the Other Persons of the Trinity in Glory.

Knowing all these things – that His time was come, that Judas was betraying Him, that He is God the Son, Who was with the Father from before the Creation and was returning to Him – therefore, He stood up, took off His outer garments, tied a towel around His waist, poured water in a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel.

We don’t have to imagine what the disciples thought – Peter gives us the answer: “Lord, do you wash my feet?”

“What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.”

“You shall never wash my feet.”

The washing of feet was the duty of the lowest of the servants – not their Rabbi, not their Teacher, not the Savior, not God Incarnate. It was not the place of God to wash the feet of humans. It was beneath Jesus Wasn’t it?

Jesus answered Him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.”

Peter responded characteristically, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head ”

Jesus had told Peter that if Peter did not allow Him to wash his feet, there would be a break in the bond between them, and Peter, assuming that more is better, told Jesus if washing his feet strengthened the bond between them, then, if Jesus gave him a complete bath – that would even be better.

But Jesus corrected him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.”

What was Jesus talking about? This was more than a discussion about bathing habits and hospitality, wasn’t it?

In what way were the disciples clean that Judas was not clean? John explains in his first letter, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (I John 1:7, ESV). The other disciples had believed in Jesus savingly: they had confess[ed] with their mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe[d] in their heart that God [would] raise[] Him from the dead, [and they were] saved” (Romans 10:9, ESV). The other disciples believed that Jesus is the God the Promised Savior – Judas did not. And through the blood that Jesus would shed, they had all been cleansed of their sin. They had been delivered from their slavery to sin. But, as we have just said, even if one were to bathe and be clean, if one were to walk through the dusty, muddy roads in sandals, or barefoot, one’s feet would get dirty, right?

So, if we are righteous before God, if our sins have been cleansed through the Blood of Jesus, if we are clean – what does it mean to say that our feet still get dirty? Our dirty feet that still need to be cleansed every day are the sins that we commit every day. Jesus has cleansed all those who will ever believe, and Jesus cleans the feet of everyone who will ever believe until we are brought into Glory.

A. W. Pink explains (708) that their persons were clean – they had received salvation through Christ Alone – but their walk – their day-to-day living – was still dirty – they still sinned, just as you and I do until Jesus returns. That is why we need to repent of our sin daily – if not more often.

Paul explains, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:25b-27, ESV).

So then through the hearing of the Word of God, we receive Jesus – we are cleansed of our sin, all of our sins are forgiven and we are no longer inclined towards sin – we are made righteous. However, becoming holy – sanctified – is a process that continues until Jesus returns to bring us into Glory. God the Holy Spirit is working in us now to remove those “spots and wrinkles” that still remain in us – to wash our feet from the sin we daily pick up and track around in our walk.

The disciples were already Christians – believers in Jesus Alone for salvation – they were righteous through the Sacrifice Jesus was going to offer on Good Friday – their bodies were clean. But they were not holy – they continued to sin – so it was necessary for them to wash their feet every day – for the Holy Spirit to work repentance in them each day. And the same is true for each one of us. We are forgiven – justified; Jesus has paid the debt for all of the sin of everyone who will ever believe, yet we still turn away and sin, and we do not lose our salvation in sinning, but we are called to repent of our sin and to continue by the Power of God the Holy Spirit working in us to become holy.

Then Jesus asked the disciples if they understood what He had just done – that He had symbolically shown them that though they are righteous through Jesus, becoming holy is a process of God working in us.

Then Jesus said, “You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am.” Jesus could have received the death penalty for saying that: Jesus said, “You call me didaskolos and kurios, and you are right for so I am.” “You call me master rabbi and...” The word kurios is used in the New Testament as the Greek translation of the Hebrew word adonai, and the Jews used the word adonai for yhwh, the most holy and personal of God’s Names that God told to Moses. The disciples would have understood the words – if not the entire meaning, Jesus said, “You call me master rabbi and Almighty God, and you are right, for so I am.”

We can imagine them in stunned silence as Jesus continued, “If I then, [the Almighty God and master rabbi], have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”

Jesus said, a servant is not greater than his master. If the master does x, it is not below the servant to do x. In fact, the servant ought to follow the good example of his master and do x.

Jesus, the master rabbi and Almighty God, had done something that would have been scandalous for a merely human master to do – He has washed His disciples’ feet. He was showing them that becoming holy is a process, although we are instantly justified through Jesus’ Sacrifice, becoming holy is a process that God works in us.

Was Jesus teaching them that they ought to literally wash each others’ feet? Most scholars and denominations say He was not. So what was Jesus teaching them – and us? Is there something that we can to do help each other progress in holiness? Is there anything we can do to help each other refrain from sin?

Although He is God Who restores the Image of God in us and makes us holy like His Son, God works through us to accomplish His Will. So we are to watch out for each other’s feet. In love, we ought to do everything we can to help lead each other away from sin and to follow after good. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves.

If we know someone is tempted to sin in certain circumstances, we ought to do all we can to keep that person from being tempted and falling into temptation. Don’t offer an alcoholic a drink or bring him to a bar. Don’t give a glutton a whole cake. Don’t tell a gossip a juicy piece of news. If someone starts to badmouth someone, tell them you’re not interested in hearing it. Invite people to give food to the poor, to attend worship, to see the good in another person, to take better care of his body. And so forth.

We ought to do all we can to keep each others’ feet clean – to turn each other away from sin and to lead each other towards the good.

After Judas had left, Jesus told the rest of the disciples that He was now glorified and God was glorified in Him, and that since God was glorified in Jesus, Jesus would also be glorified, and He was glorified in that moment. Jesus was revealed for Who He is – God’s Plan was revealed, and God was better seen by the disciples in that moment.

And He told them again that they could not go where He was going; Jesus had to face the Wrath of God alone – as the One Sacrifice for everyone who would ever believe savingly in Him.

And Jesus said, “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Well, how much did Jesus love them? Jesus explained how to be great to the disciples: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25b-28, ESV).

And Paul wrote: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, thought he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8, ESV).

How much does Jesus love? Enough that the Almighty God would humble Himself by taking on a human person, serving His Creation, and allowing Himself to be put to death for those He came to save.

This is not masochism. Jesus does not call us to learn to enjoy being abused by people.

This is not being a doormat. Jesus stood up for what was right and He spoke the Truth and exposed sin.

This is the humility of love which says, “I’m going to refrain from doing something because Peter is here, and I know if I do this or say this, it will lead Peter into sin.” This is the humility of love which says – privately, “Peter, I’m concerned that you are sinning and don’t even realize it, could we talk about what you’re doing?” This is the humility of love which says, “If I do this or say this, it will help Peter, he may become a more faithful Christian, and it will glorify God.”

This is the humility of love which says – ultimately, as we saw in the book of Acts, when Peter and the apostles had been let out of prison with the warning that they were not to teach about Jesus again, “But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at the right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and the forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him’” (Acts 5:29-32, ESV).

This is the humility of love which says, with Paul in prison, “Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be ashamed, but with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet, which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, Because of my coming to you again” (Philippians 1:18b-26, ESV).

God has called us to a life of service in glorifying Him, and by serving Him, we receive joy. Jesus has shown us that we are not above doing anything for anyone for the sake of the Gospel. And in washing the disciples’ feet, He has shown us that we are to humble ourselves in love to help each other progress in holiness – to the Glory of God.

Shortly, we will receive the Lord’s Supper. In the elements of the bread and the cup, this same Jesus Who physically walked on this earth two thousand years ago, will meet with us spiritually and give us the grace that we need to be able to do all that God has called us to do. Let us trust Him, and follow after Him in humility, showing love, that the whole world will know that we are His disciples.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, our Master Rabbi, we hear that You washed the disciples’ feet, and we respond with disgust, not wanting to do likewise. Humble us and let us see that if God Himself was willing to come to earth to save us from Your Wrath for our sin, we ought to be willing to do anything You call us to do in love and to Your Glory. Strengthen us now for the work You have given us to do, mature us and make us holy, after the Image of Your Son, for it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Review: "5 Things Every Christian Needs to Grow"

We recently used Dr. R. C. Sproul’s book, 5 Things Every Christian Needs to Grow, in our evening study.

Sproul argues, first, a healthy and growing Christian must be studying the Bible, because it is through God’s Word that we are brought to faith and begin to gain the mind of Christ. Sproul notes that if we disagree with a passage of Scripture, we have either not understood it or we are just sinning, and we ought to wrestle with such a passage until we submit to God. He ends this chapter with some resources for understanding the text, and he also recommends places to begin reading in the Bible.

Second, prayer. Here, Sproul argues prayer is a duty – God said to, a privilege – we can come before God, and a means of grace – we are matured and strengthen through prayer. The chapter concludes looking at the Lord’s Prayer and other patterns of prayer.

Third, worship. Sproul begins with the history of Nadab and Abihu to argue that worship is serious business and that God has set what is appropriate for and in worship. He then explains what it means to worship “in spirit and in truth,” and he argues for preparation before the worship service.

Fourth, service. Sproul explains that all five disciplines are means of grace. Then he explains that God did not save us out of slavery to sin and Satan to go and do whatever we want. Our salvation is form slavery to sin and Satan to slavery to God. Sproul explains that all calls are valid and may be done to the Glory of God, yet he warns that the best we can do is only what is required of us, so we ought not to become prideful in our service.

Fifth, stewardship. Sproul explains that we are stewards fo everything – nothing we have or use is our own, but belongs to God, and God has set us as stewards of all He blesses us with, beginning with the stewardship of the Creation given to humanity in the Garden. He then discusses the tithe, arguing that the tithe is the basic giving unit, and that it is still binding on the New Testament Christian. However, he argues that the tithe doesn’t need to go just to the church on worships in, but may be divided with parachurch ministries. This, I believe, is a mistake. The tithe was always intended to be the amount that adds up for the maintaining of the building and the pastor (priest). It does not seem biblical to my understanding, to give less than the full tithe to the church, and then give more to the church and other organizations.

The books ends with a Q & A section in which Sproul addresses whether or not God hears the prayers of unbelievers, whether worship ought to be “seeker-sensitive,” and the frequency of the Lord’s Supper. With regards to frequency, Sproul admits that the argument of Calvin was for reception of the elements every time the church gathers, which one sees in Corinthians and in the documents of the early church fathers. However, Sproul gives in to the “but it won’t seem special” argument, which surprised me, and states that they receive the elements once a month. If the Sacrament is a means of grace, and the biblical and historical example is for frequent reception, I cannot but disagree with Sproul. Even without the evidence, would one really argue to see one’s spouse once a month, so the visit would remain “special”? This is a spurious argument, and I regret he includes it.

Overall, this is an excellent book – one well worth going through with our fellow Christians. However, be prepared for discussion, and even to disagree with Sproul on a few points, and be ready to explain why and what the Scripture says.

May God continue to us Dr. Sproul to His Glory.

Welcome to Holy Week

D.V., our Holy Week schedule is:

4/21/11 7 PM  Communion Maundy Thursday Worship
4/22/11 7 PM  Communion Good Friday Worship
4/23/11 3 PM  Prayer Meeting
4/24/11 10:30 AM  Communion Easter Worship

Monday, April 18, 2011

Review: "Max on Life"

I have enjoyed Max Lucado’s books for many years. He is very readable, Christ-centered, and like talking with an old friend. His latest book, Max on Life: Answers and Insights to Your Most Important Questions, is no exception. Lucado goes through 172 questions and answers, as well as an appendix which addresses the desires of would-be writers.

Over-all, Lucado’s answers are straightforward, good, and comprehendible.

Some are especially good, addressing issues and misunderstanding that I have found in my ministry:

Much like John Piper, Lucado explains that “God exists to showcase God” (29). God’s primary desire it to Glorify Himself, because He is Worthy. Our greatest joy is found in showing God to be Who He is.

Serious illness maybe God’s way of getting us to rely on Him (88). As difficult as it may be to understand (and I write this as someone with an incurable, chronic, and fatal disease), there are no simple answers for why x happens to y. It may be due to our sin. It may be to the fact of the Fall. It may be to bring glory to God. It may be to help us to mature in the faith.

The material world is good and will be restored to it’s pre-Fall state (217). Unlike what the churches taught that I grew up in, the Bible teaches that the Creation will be purified and restored, and we will live on the earth in the Kingdom; the material world will not be destroyed – we will not get wings and harps and float among the clouds.

Our job is to witness, not to convert (219). I have heard horrible and frightening stories about what God will do if we don’t get x to convert, but that is not what the Scripture tells us – we are called to proclaim the Gospel, conversion is God’s job.

After the appendix, there are very useful Scriptural and topical indexes.

However, I was troubled to find some serious errors (if I understand the Scripture correctly):

Lucado says that our salvation is based on our belief, not on grace alone (11). If salvation is based on our decision, then we are, in part, our own savior. I see the Bible teaching that God saves us through Jesus Alone by Grace Alone – our response of confession actually comes after God has regenerated us.

God can do anything (64). I don’t think Lucado actually believes this: Can God created a rock that is too heavy for Him to lift? Can God sin? There are things God cannot do – God cannot do anything that is contrary to His Nature. That does not make God less than God, it only defines His Nature.

Prayer gets God to change His Plans/Mind (77). There are passages of “condescension” where it says that God relents or changes His Mind, but if that is literally what has happened, then God is either evil or not Sovereign; a Sovereign God cannot be mistaken or shown a better way. These passages refer to our not getting the big picture, not to God’s insufficiencies.,

He persistently misapplies II Peter 3:9 (220-223). II Peter 3:9 says that “God is not willing that any perish.” But that does not mean that God wants everyone to be saved, otherwise, God would be a failure – God’s Will would be thwarted. In it’s context, the “any” that Peter is referring to are – go back one verse – “the beloved” – Christians – not everyone in the whole world, but those whom God has chosen/elect to save.

One final misgiving I have with this book is the amount of Scripture that is given in The Message and The Living Bible. Paraphrases may have a place, but not for quoting as what the Scripture says – they are not translations.

For all these reasons, and despite all the good in this book, I cannot recommend it for the average person. It might be useful for a pastor/le4ader to read through to cull out the good, but there is too much amiss that will mislead people to put this book in the hands of the laity.

[This review appears on Amazon.com and my blog. I received this book for free from Thomas Nelson Publishing Group for this review.]

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Review: "The Radical Disciple: Some Neglected Aspects of Our Calling"

In what John Stott calls his final book, The Radical Disciple: Some Neglected Aspects of Our Calling, he seeks to address eight areas in which he believes the Church is lacking.

He begins by explaining that by “radical disciple,” he wants to emphasize the teacher-student relationship between Christ and the Christian, as well as the necessary deep-rootedness of commitment that Jesus requires from His disciples (14-15).

First, Stott argues that we have not exemplified nonconformity. Rather, we have sought escapism or conformism, Nonconformity is “a call to engagement without compromise” (19).

Second, Christlikeness. Stott argues that The Westminster Shorter Catechism is not strong enough – what God has called us to is to become like Christ. We are to be like Him in being incarnational, servants, loving, patience in enduring, and like Him in His Mission (31-34).

Third, maturity. Stott argues the greatest problem of the modern church is “growth without depth” (38).Maturity comes as one gets a clear portrait of Jesus through prayer and study of the Scripture (48).

Fourth, Creation care. Stott explains tat both dominion and being created in the image of God bear on our stewardship responsibility to care for the Creation, as well as the Scripture’s teaching that the Creation will be restored on the last day – not destroyed. (I found this the weakest chapter because he does not explain how to care for the Creation.)

Fifth, simplicity. Not asceticism, but biblical simplicity. Rather that explain this briefly as Stott does with his other chapters, he prints the entire document, An Evangelical Commitment to Simple Life-Style (65-82). This would ave served better as an appendix; in the body of the book, I found myself going from listening to a kind teacher to slogging through a marsh.

Sixth, balance. In this chapter, Stott examines six metaphors that Peter uses to describe the disciples, and Stott shows that each is a balancing act as they all work together (97-98).

Seventh, dependence. This is the humility to accept that w not only need God but we need each other, both in understanding, and in emotional and physical well-being. (102).

Eighth, death. Stott examines the relationship of the fact of death to salvation, discipleship, mission, persecution, martyrdom, mortality, and the necessity of death if we are to live (133).

Stott’s book covers a great deal of necessary material for the 21st century Church, though I would wish it had some expansion, and some additional editing. Also, in looking for the books that Stott quotes, I found that most of them are out of print, though somewhat available through the usual sources.

I hope Stott will write more on these issues or that others will take up his mantel and continue to show how we might become the radical disciples Christ has called us to be.

"Hosanna" Sermon: Matthew 21:1-11

“Hosanna”
[Matthew 21:1-11]
April 17, 2011 Second Reformed Church

Our Scripture brings us near Jerusalem, about a week before the Crucifixion. Jesus was preparing to enter the city and complete the work that He came to earth to do. And Jesus and His disciples stopped on the Mount of Olives. And Jesus sent two of His disciples to a nearby village and told them that when they got to the village, they would see a donkey – a female donkey, with a young colt with her. And Jesus told the disciples to take them and bring them to Him, and, if anyone should question what they were doing, they were to say, “The Lord needs them.”

How did Jesus know there would be a mother donkey with her colt in the nearby village? How did Jesus know that the owner would respond positively to the disciples cryptically saying “The Lord needs them”?

We’re not told anything more about this interchange and the gathering of the donkey and the colt; it happened just as Jesus said it would. So, here we have a glimpse at the Divinity of Jesus. Jesus knew what animals there would be and where they would be and that the owner would let them go with the simple command, “The Lord needs them.”

More importantly than how Jesus knew what He knew and why the owner of the donkey and the colt responded the way he did, is the question of why Jesus told the disciples to get the donkey and the colt in the first place. It certainly wasn’t too far for Jesus to walk from the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem; He was use to walking all over Israel. Why, now, did He command the disciples to bring Him a donkey and her colt?

There are at least three reasons, and the first one is quite explicit in our text:

Jesus told them to get the donkey and her colt to fulfill the prophecy of Zechariah: “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’”

The people of Jesus’ day knew the Scripture well enough that they would see Jesus coming into Jerusalem on a donkey, with her colt, and they would associate what He was doing with this prophecy – that the King of Israel was coming to claim His Throne and deliver them.

We will remember that Israel was under Roman rule at this time and a large percentage of the population was looking forward to the day when they would throw off their oppressors and be the people of God, under His Rule alone. So, this and other Scriptures like it would have been particularly on the minds of the Jews.

The second reason follows naturally from the first – after three years of telling people not to tell anyone Who He was, now the time had come – Jesus sought to draw attention to Himself – He was finally, publically proclaiming that He is the King of Israel, the long-awaited Savior.

As He rode into Jerusalem with the crowd around Him, praising Him and glorifying God, all of Jerusalem was swept up in the procession – some welcoming Jesus, others wanting to know Who He thought He was.

The third reason Jesus commanded them to bring the donkey and her colt, we can gather from our look at the idea of dominion that we have considered with the Image of God over the Lenten Season: our God is a God Who cares about the Creation He created. So, knowing that the donkey had a young colt with her, which would be upset – to say the least – to have her mother taken from her while she was yet so young, Jesus compassionately instructed the disciples not to separate the donkey and her colt, but to bring them both for His Triumphal Entry.

And so, they brought the donkey and the colt to Jesus, and they put their cloaks on the donkey, and as they began to make their way toward Jerusalem, many other people threw their cloaks on the ground and cut branches from the trees to cushion the donkey’s way as she carried Jesus, God the King and Savior, into Jerusalem.

Let us notice the type of people that lauded Jesus and marched with Him into Jerusalem – they were not the rich, the politicians, the influential members of society, and the religious leaders – at least the majority of them were not. How do we know that? Well, no one had a saddle for the donkey – they spread cloaks for Jesus to sit on. No one offered a horse and chariot for this Triumphal Entry. Their offerings – physically – were extremely modest. Jesus was welcomed and lauded by the poor, the outcasts, and the sick – the people He had spent most of His time ministering to.

And the crowds announced Jesus and praised Him by quoting the Psalmist:

“Hosanna to the Son of David Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord Hosanna in the highest ”

What were they saying? What does ‘hosanna” mean?

The word “hosanna” means “Save, we pray ” And it is implied in the word that that salvation that people are looking for is deliverance from the corrupt rule of humans and the restoration of the Rule of God. The intent of the word “hosanna” is the same as when we pray “Thy Kingdom come.”

When the people cried out, “Hosanna to the Son of David ,” they were crying out, “Save, we pray Through Jesus, God’s King and Savior, the Rightful Heir to the Throne of David, bring us under Your Rule, God, and Yours alone.”

The poor, at least, had grown tired of being under Roman rule and even under the rule of bad kings in Israel and Judah. They had had enough – they wanted to return to the days before Saul when God alone ruled over them.

Are you tired of petty politics? Are you tired of wars? Are you tired of following God and then following after sin and then following after God and then following after sin? The day is coming when the cry of the people of Israel before Jesus will come in all its fulness. John describes it this way:

“Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessings ’ And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, ‘To the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever ’ And the four living creatures said, ‘Amen ’ and the elders fell down and worshiped” (Revelation 5:11-14, ESV).

The announcement had been made: Jesus is the Legitimate Heir to the throne of David, and He will restore the Kingdom of God in all its fullness, with God as the Sovereign Ruler over all in His Kingdom on earth.

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord ”

Jesus came in the Name of the Almighty God – that is, Jesus came with authority which comes from God.

Luke records, “One day, as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders came up and said to him, ‘Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who is it that gave you this authority.’ He answered them, ‘I also will ask you a question. Now tell me, Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?’ And they discussed it with one another, saying, ‘If we say, “From heaven,” he will say, “Why did you not believe him?” But if we say, “From man,” all the people will stone us to death, for they are convinced that John was a prophet.’ So they answered that they did not know where it came from. And Jesus said to them, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things’” (Luke 20:1-8, ESV).

The author of Hebrews writes, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2, ESV).

Do we remember what it means to be “seated at the right hand”? To be “seated at the right hand” means “this person’s authority comes from.” So, what the scribes and elders and chief priests could not admit, and what the author of Hebrews explains to us, and what the crowd cried out to Jesus as He made His Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem is, “Jesus’ Authority comes from God”; “the Authority of Jesus is the Authority of God.”

Thirdly, in emphasis, the crowd cried out, “Hosanna in the highest ” “Save, we pray, in and from the heavens ” “The salvation that we require is from God – and that is the salvation that we receive through Jesus, our Redeemer and Savior.”

The nobodies of Israel flocked around Jesus as He rode into Jerusalem, calling attention to Himself, bringing to mind the prophecy of the God-King Who would come and restore the Sovereign Reign of God on earth.

And they cried out from the Scripture:

Jesus is the Legitimate Heir to the Throne of David.

Jesus’ Authority is the Authority of God.

Jesus is the Savior and Redeemer that has been sent from heaven.

But some of the people of Jerusalem couldn’t see – they didn’t understand what was happening, “Who is this?” “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.”

The Only Answer that God provides to the request – the petition – “Hosanna ” – is Jesus. Jesus restores and brings the Kingdom of God among us and fulfills it in its fulness in the Kingdom.

Why didn’t everyone understand Who Jesus is? Why didn’t everyone welcome Him as He rode into Jerusalem? Why do the rich and the powerful and the knowledgeable tend to dismiss Him or minimize Him, while the poor and the rejected and the common person more likely see Him for Who He is and receive Him and His Salvation?

Hear this history:

“One of the Pharisees asked [Jesus] to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house, and he took his place at the table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing beside him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of a woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.’ And Jesus answering said to him, ‘Simon, I have something to say to you.’ And he answered, ’Say it, Teacher.’

“‘A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denari, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now, which of them will love him more?’ Simon answered, ‘The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.’ And he said to him, ‘You have judged rightly.’ Then turning to the woman he said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I entered your house, you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven – for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.’ And he said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ Then those who were at the table began to say among themselves, ‘Who is this who even forgives sins?’ And he said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you, go in peace’” (Luke 7:36-50, ESV).

As it was in Jesus’ day, so it is today: those who understand how great their sin is are more often those who turn to Him for forgiveness and salvation. Jesus Alone answers the cry, “Hosanna – save, we pray ”

I pray we all recognize Him as He rides into Jerusalem on a donkey with her colt in tow.

Let us pray:
Almighty God and Savior, You Who hold all authority as the Sovereign God and Only Ruler for all of eternity, we praise You and rejoice that You chose to send Your Son to live among us under Your Law and then to obediently follow You into Jerusalem, announcing that He is Immanuel – “God with us” – knowing the horror He would face at the hands of sinful human being – like us – for revealing Who He is. Help us day by day to become more bold in proclaiming Who You are, for we have much to be forgiven for, and You are the Mighty Savior. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

"Renewed to the Image of God" Sermon: Colossians 3:1-11

“Renewed to the Image of God”
[Colossians 3:1-11]
April 10, 2011 Second Reformed Church

This week I received the renewal application for the registration for my car. Have you ever renewed anything? A book? A driver’s licence, your car’s registration, your membership in an organization?

Paul tells us that God is renewing us to the Image of God.

This morning we are concluding our look at the Image of God by looking at the third of three words that Paul uses to describe what God does to restore the Image of God in us. We will remember that when God created humans in the Image of God, God gave us dominion over the Creation – we are to steward and care for the Creation as God’s representatives. But, through our first parent’s sin, the Image of God became marred or broken. Yet, through salvation in Jesus, the process of restoring God’s Image in us begins.

False teachers had come into the church at Colossae, and they were teaching that holiness and perfection come from within ourselves. They were teaching that we just had to think positively and visualize success and we would have it. We just have to bring together all that positive energy that is within us and will it to break forth into reality. If we just have enough faith, we can carry out all of the commandments of God through our own power. They added to this their own favorite man-made rules about celebrations and food and so forth – things that God does not requires of us. (We can still hear the Colossian false teachers on the TV and radio.)

Paul explains that in Christ’s death, we also died. We died to our slavery to sin and Satan. We died to the keeping of the Ceremonial and Judicial Law of Israel. We no longer have to sin. We no longer have to follow after Satan. We no longer have to keep the rules and regulations about diet and holidays that God gave Israel. And we certainly don’t have to keep laws about days and food that are not in the Scripture.

Understand, if we think the kosher diet of Israel is a more healthful way to eat, we can eat that way, but we are not to impose it on anyone as something that must be done. Likewise, if we want to celebrate holidays, that’s fine, but celebrating them earn us nothing in the eyes of God. Our salvation is by grace and grace alone.

And so, just as Christ died, we died in Him. And just as Christ rose from the dead, we rise with Him to new life in Him. Jesus died in the flesh after living a perfect and holy life under God’s Law and because He is Innocent He was qualified to bring we who were enslaved to sin to death in Him. Jesus brought our spiritually dead selves who were slaves to sin and by His Righteousness, He killed our slavery, freeing us to serve God through our resurrection.

Did you know that you – everyone who believes in Jesus Alone for salvation – has risen from the dead?

Paul explains that just as we have died in Jesus, we have risen in Him and will rise because of Him. Jesus has raised us from spiritual death to spiritual life, so now, by the Power of God the Holy Spirit Who lives in us, we can live for Jesus and respond positively to God, because we are called to holiness.

We were born spiritually dead, and through Christ, we have been made spiritually alive. And just as Jesus physically rose from the dead, we will physically rise from the dead on the last day. In the meantime, we are called to proclaim the Gospel to the whole Creation and to abide by God’s Moral Law.

What the false teachers didn’t understand – or, at least weren’t teaching – is that, although we are under a call to moral holiness, becoming holy is a process that is not completed until Jesus receives us and glorifies us at His Return. It may be shocking to some of us, be we need to realize that none of us is holy – not yet – we are all continuing through the process of becoming holy, called sanctification. We will not be holy until we receive our physical resurrection. (That is not an excuse for us to sin, however. We are called to holiness and we are to do everything we can to make progress towards holiness, and God the Holy Spirit moves us along in that process.)

Just as Christ died and Christ rose again, we have also died and will die, and we have been raised from the dead, and we will rise from the dead. And, just as Jesus ascended back to the Father, we will ascend into the Kingdom, and we are to be about the process of ascending even now.

Since we have been spiritually raised from the dead, we can pursue that call to holiness, so Paul tells us, “Seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on the things that are on earth.”

Does that mean that we can forget about the Creation? Use it and abuse it and throw it away? No. Some of the false teachers in Colossae were teaching this – deny yourself all the things of the earth; live ascetic lives of complete denial. But that can’t be what Paul means: We have been talking about our call to care for the Creation as the meaning of our having dominion – the Image of God in us. And God gave us the Creation to know Him and to enjoy.

What Paul is telling us is that we are to use our minds – our intellect – to find Christ throughout the world. Everything has to do with Jesus. Everything was created by Jesus, for Jesus, through Jesus, so as we look to the vast Creation, as Christians, we ought to be able to find Christ.

For example, many of us enjoy listening to music. As we listen to music, do we ever go to “the things that are above”? Do we ever listen to music and enjoy it and sing along – and then, praise our Savior for giving us ears to hear and enjoy music, for giving the musicians and composers the skill to play and sing, for the wisdom and skill of the people who made the CD-player, the recording devices, the instruments being played, for the voices that God gave, etc.?

Does that mean we shouldn’t be thankful to the artist? Of course not. But, ultimately, the universe is not about Josh Groban or Bach – it’s about Jesus Christ, our Mighty Savior. He Who deserves all praise and adoration – He to Whom we ought give thanks and recognize as the giver of all good things.

Do you enjoy our coffee hour? As you enjoy the drinks and food, have you ever “sought the things above”? Have you ever been amazed as you eat and drink that God has given us tastebuds to enjoy our food and a digestive system to process it, that God has given us people who can put foods together in ways that are enjoyable to us, as well as the ability to afford our coffee hour supplies, and to be in a country where they are readily available?

It doesn’t take long to see that we can find Christ throughout the world and we have so many things to be thankful for and amazed by – by God’s Mercy, that we could spend the rest of our lives doing nothing other than seeing Christ in everything and giving Him thanks and praise.

Hear this word of comfort: “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” We have hope and comfort in knowing that Christ is our all in all. He is faithful to us, and in thanks, we are committed to Him. We have fellowship with Christ and security in Him. Paul wrote to the Romans, “For in [the] hope [of the redemption of our bodies] we are saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes in what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:24-25, ESV).

Just as Jesus is secure in God, we are hidden – we are securely protected and reserved for a glorious future in the Kingdom – with Christ in God. Lift your eyes to the things above where Christ is – we have been raised from spiritual death, God has given His Life and sworn our future life with Him by His Own Life. What greater security could we have?

This world is not perfect, and we are not sinless, but, “When Christ who is [our] life appears, then [we] will appear with Him in glory.” We will not become holy through obeying the Ceremonial and Judicial Law, nor through willing and positive thinking – we will be holy and glorified by God; we will be glorified and perfected in every way as Jesus when He returns.

That is our hope, based on the security and the Promise of Jesus.

Yet Jesus still calls us to holy living now. We are to do everything we can to “put to death therefore what is earthly in you” – those things in us and outside of us that tempt us and lead us into sin. We all have areas of weakness, areas that we more easily fall into temptation, areas in which, God help us, we enjoy following after sin. We are to put those things to death – to deny them and refuse them in the Name of Jesus and by the Power of the Holy Spirit.

Paul tells us to put to death “sexual immorality” – the church in the first century and today is prone to follow after sexual practices that God has forbidden – in the flesh and in our minds, “impurity, passion” – lust, “evil desire” – of many kinds, and “covetousness, which is idolatry” – because coveting is thinking that we deserve something more than someone else who does have something.

The Puritans called this “putting to death of what is earthly” – mortification. And it is not easy – especially about the things that we really enjoy sinning in. Lust, greed, idolatry – these are at their root are telling God that God doesn’t know what’s best for us. “God, Your Word says that we aren’t supposed to have sexual relations with certain persons, but we’re in love – or it feels good – or it makes me feel better about myself.” “God, You’ve given so and so a high-paying job that he really enjoys, but I deserve it so much more than he does. I work harder. I sin less.” “God, You’ve given me such heartache and suffering in my life – more than I can possible handle – and You don’t seem to be doing anything to lighten my burden.”

Maturity comes in realizing we’re not as strong as we think we are. We’re not as good as we think we are. And God is a greater Savior that we ever imagined He was. Maturity comes as our pride collapses and we cry out to God, “Take away the joy of sinning from me. Make me follow after You in the way I know I should. Give me the strength to turn away from the temptation to do...whatever it is.” “Wretched man that I am Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord ” (Romans 7:24-25a, ESV).

The Wrath of God is coming against the world because of the sin – the cosmic rebellion that we have all taken part in. But thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord, He has chosen to choose some of us – to save us – to make us new – to renew us and restore us.

Stop being unjustly angry, stop taking vengeance into your own hands, stop seeking to hurt others, stop gossiping and telling lies about each other, stop the obscenity coming from your mouths – and that doesn’t just mean “bad words” – that means anything that is offensive. When we say anything that is contrary to what God has said – when we say something that is not true about God and His Word – that is obscene.

Through Jesus Christ our Lord, we are able to put off these and all of our sins, because He is God Who works in us and through us and with us to put on our “new self” – our holy and glorified self that we will finally receive when Jesus returns – “which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.”

God is renewing us – God is making us new – restoring us to the Image of God our first parents had in the Garden, and glorifying all we who believe so we can never sin again. This is not “Let go and let God” – this is not, sit back and see what God does – this is, let us do everything we can to pursue holiness and righteousness and godliness and sinlessness and God will work through us to accomplish all these things according to His Plan and Purpose and Promise.

The renewal of God’s Image that God is causing in His people has nothing to do with who we are or where we are from or our ethnicity or anything else. Paul writes, “Here [– in the renewing of the Image of God in God’s people] there is not Greek or Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.”

In other words, just as there is no difference among humans in the fact that we are all born sinners – cosmic rebels against God, so there is no difference in the fact that He is God Who restores the Image of God in His people. God renews His people, and there isn’t a black renewal and a white renewal and a male renewal and a female renewal. God restores us and glorifies us to perfectly and eternally be His people.

John Calvin says that our renewal includes our nature being restored, true integrity being restored, being able to follow in the obedience of righteousness, and the renewal of our reason and will – so we can rightly exercise dominion with our Brother and Head, Jesus.

Christ is the beginning and the end of all things. He created us and He has chosen a people for Himself to redeem and restore through His Life, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension. And so, He has raised us from the dead, and we are progressing towards full renewal – holiness in and through Jesus.

Paul goes on to explain that as God’s holy and beloved people, we are not merely to stop sinning, but we are to become like God – we are to exhibit God’s Image now – we are to strive towards the holiness we are moving towards – we are to work hard – Paul calls the Christian life a fight – a race.

We are to be compassionate towards others, because Jesus has shown compassion to us. We are to be humble towards others, because we understand the rebellion and sin we have taken part in against God – there is no job or call beneath us, and there is no person beneath our care. We are to be meek – not self-seeking, but always pointing others to Jesus and His Salvation. We are to be patient, because God is patient towards us, seeking our full salvation, even as we struggle and continue to fall into sin. We are to bear with each other – accept that we are all different people, and, if we sin against each other, we are to forgive each other, because Jesus has forgiven us more that we can imagine and more than anyone will ever sin against us.

Most importantly, we are to put on love – not just friendship, not just erotic love, but the self-sacrificing love that Jesus has – the love which “binds everything together in perfect harmony.” And as we pursue that love, the Peace of Christ will rule in our hearts, and we will indeed be one body.

And let us be thankful. Why are we reminded to be thankful so often in the Scripture? Because we are very good at complaining, but not so good at giving thanks. After college, I worked in a Christian bookstore, and at the end of the day, the owner thanked us each for our work. Initially, I thought that the strangest thing. I was working for her, doing my job, earning my paycheck, why should she feel the need to thank me? Because thanking people changes them and us for the better. Do you thank the clerk at the store or the supermarket? Do you thank your mail carrier? Do you thank your doctor? Do you thank others who do things for you? Do we thank God – every day – for the multitude of blessings we have received?

We are called to “let the word of Christ dwell in [us] richly” – let us read our Bibles, hear preaching, study God’s Word. Let us teach each other from the Scripture – those who have the gift of teaching ought to be teaching. Let us admonish each other in wisdom – let us help each other and correct each other and lead each other in paths of righteousness. Let us sing together in praise and thankfulness to God.

And in case something seems to have slipped by Paul’s description, he writes, “And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3 17, ESV).

Why do we do what we do? Paul tells us the first reason we should do anything is to make God’s Name – His Gospel – His Salvation – His Glory known. We might well ask ourselves, “Am I doing this to the Glory of God and in thanksgiving to Him?” Can we thank God and see Who He is as we pay our bills? As we mow the lawn? As we work at our jobs? As we are sick in bed? As we are at the funeral of a loved one? As our niece or grandchild throws up on us?

God is renewing the Image of God in us. God is transforming us to the Image of God. God is conforming us to the Image of God. And we can see the Image of God, because He came to earth in the Person of Jesus Christ. We were created to rule with God over the Creation and we shall rule with Jesus over the Creation – all those who believe in Jesus savingly will rule with Him in the Kingdom. And God will restore His Image in us, perfecting and glorifying us.

For now, let us work hard in thanksgiving to be all that God has called us to be. And let us trust that the Holy Spirit Who lives in us is working through us and using us and our efforts to bring that restoration to completion. Salvation is all of God, and then He calls us to take part in the restoration of the whole Creation.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, Lover of Your children. We thank You for creating us in Your Image and for choosing a people to be Yours through Your Son Jesus. We thank You that You are changing us and restoring us, not merely to what our first parents were in the Garden, but into the Very Likeness of Your Son and Image Jesus Christ. Help us to trust and to work hard in thanksgiving and to Your Glory. And may Jesus Christ be praised. Amen.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

"Transformed to the Image of God" Sermon: II Corinthians 3:12-18

“Transformed to the Image of God”
[II Corinthians 3:12-18]
April 3, 2011 Second Reformed Church

I want the make sure we all understand where we are and what we have seen, so I would like us to say a few things together. Please repeat after me:

“God created us in the Image of God.”

“That means we have dominion over the Creation.”

“That means we are to care for the Creation.”

“Sin has corrupted the Image of God in us.”

“God will restore the Image of God in us.”

Thank you. That is what we have seen over the past few weeks, and today we look at the second of three words that Paul uses to describe how God will restore the Image of God in us. Last week we saw that God will conform us to the Image of God. That is, God will make us like unto the Image of God Who is Jesus. God is making us like Jesus in the way that Jesus has dominion over the Creation. That includes our receiving a new, physical body at Jesus’ Return and our reigning with Him over the Creation now and in the Kingdom.

Today, we are looking at the idea – and the word – that God is transforming us into the Image of God. What does it mean to “transform” something? If we “transform” something, we change it from one thing into another thing. The word “transform” is also associated with the word “transfigure” – we look at that more shortly.

At this point in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, Paul is explaining to the Corinthians that the confidence he has before God is not based on his keeping of the Law, but based on Christ. Paul explains that the Law was a “ministry to death” – the Law told humanity what God demanded, what sin is, and what the punishment for disobedience is – the Law shows us that no one is right with God – but it does not tell us how anyone can become right with God. It has been calculated that there are 613 laws in the Old Testament, but no way to become right with God in the end.

That does not mean that the Law is bad or makes us do what is wrong. Paul explains that the Law does reveal God and His Glory, but it does so as through a veil. But through Jesus, in God becoming Man, in Jesus Christ being the Image of God, the veil was lifted and the Glory of God was revealed.

Paul explains in this morning’s text that we have hope that the glory that we see in reading the Law has become a permanent glory that we will enter into through Jesus. Paul tells the Romans that when Jesus returns, all those who believe in Him – and the whole Creation – will enter into “the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21b, ESV). We will have the Image of God restored in us – we will be perfected and made like Jesus.

Because we know that God has come to earth in the Person of Jesus, lived, died for our sins, risen from the dead, and ascended back to His Throne, we have hope – a sure confidence that it will surely happen – that we have been received by Jesus into His Kingdom and He will restore us and perfect us and glorify us.

For example, God gave the Law, and God’s Glory can been seen and known through the Law – like a lightbulb in a lamp. But if mud is poured over the lamp, or a curtain is drawn around the lamp, it will be difficult to see the light – the glory of the lamp – right? In the same way, our sin – humanity’s sin – has put a veil between us and the Glory of God in His Law. There is a veil in front of us keeping people from fully seeing the Glory of God Who dwells in us – and from seeing the Image of God (which is now broken and marred) in us.

And, since we, ourselves, are sinners, we cannot bear to look on the fulness of God’s Glory, even as it is revealed through the Law. Paul calls his readers to remember the veil Moses wore:

When Moses was on Mount Sinai, God gave him the Law, and God told him that Moses had found favor in God sight. “Moses said, ’Please show me your glory.’ And [God] said, ‘I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name. “The Lord.” And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious and I will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But’ he said, ‘you cannot see my face for man shall not see me and live.’ And the Lord said, ‘Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in the cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen’” (Exodus 33:18-23, ESV).

Moses asked to see God’s Glory face-to-face, and God gently told him that if he were to see God’s Face, he would die, but God would do this – God would put him behind rock and allow him to see what he could see of God’s Back – Moses would be allowed to see the Glory of God, but in an extremely indirect way. He was allowed to see all that a sinful human being could possibly see.

What was the effect of this?

“When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tables of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, and, behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called them, and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses talked with them. Afterward, all the people of Israel came near, and he commanded them all that the Lord had spoken with him at Mount Sinai. And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face.

“Whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would remove the veil, until he came out, and when he came out and told the people of Israel what he commanded, the people of Israel would see the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face was shining. And Moses would put the veil over his face again, until he went in to speak with him” (Exodus 34:29-35, ESV).

Because Moses had indirectly seen the back of God’s Glory, his face – his skin – shone so brightly that the people asked him to wear a veil – the light of the Glory of God coming off of his face was so bright, they couldn’t stand to look at it.

Have you ever looked directly at the sun? You can’t do it for very long, can you? And when you look away, you have spots and lights in your vision. We have sunglasses to block some of the brightness – the glory – of the sun from our eyes.

Moses went before the Presence of God and received indirect Glory from God, but it was enough that the people covered their eyes and asked Moses to put on a veil. Moses would come out from meeting with God, and the people would cover their eyes, “Moses The veil We can’t take the glory.” The Glory of the Back of God that reflected off of the face of Moses was too much, because the Light reveals the Truth – sinful human beings collapse under their guilt when the Light is shone upon them.

Paul tells us that sinful human beings have hardened their hearts and affixed a veil over their eyes to keep from seeing the Glory of God, so a mere human being who hears or reads the Law of God cannot understand it – he cannot see it – she has been given the Law of God in which His Glory can be seen, and we all said, “God. It’s bright. Cover it up. We’re hardening our hearts. We don’t want to look at it. It hurts. It’s burning away because of our sin. We would rather stay in the dark.”

The Law and the Glory of God to sinners is like garlic to a vampire – “Keep it away ” And Paul tells us that the biological decedents of Israel, and all mere human beings, hardened their minds against God, so “when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted.”

Martin Luther struggled with this: in writing about the Jews, he confessed that he couldn’t understand why the Jews didn’t come to faith in Jesus – their Messiah – their Savior – when he showed them how clearly Jesus fulfilled all the prophecies of the Promised Savior.

The problem was not Martin Luther’s ability to convey the Truth of the Scripture, the problem was that humans have hardened their hearts and minds, so that when they read and hear the Scripture, it is veiled and covered, so they cannot see it or hear it clearly.

That is not an excuse for us not to prepare and study and know all that we can know and present the Gospel as clearly and as well as we can. We are to do everything to make the Gospel clear and known throughout the Creation, but I cannot convert anyone and you cannot convert anyone. We are responsible to tell others to the best of our ability; we are not responsible to convert people to Christianity, because we can’t. We cannot soften the heart or mind or remove the veil that the natural man has affixed over his eyes. We are to call every man and women to repentance and faith in Jesus as the Only Savior.

“Because only though Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.”

Glorious Good News As God is willing, God, Himself, removes their veil and softens our stony hearts and minds and causes us to received Jesus and His Gospel. God is the Only One Who can bring someone to faith. God is the Only One Who can transform a person from a rebel who hates God to a son or daughter who loves God.

When God transforms a person from a rebel to a son or daughter, suddenly, God’s Law is glorious One is no longer a slave to sin condemned by the Law, but a slave to God in freedom. We are not free from obedience, but free from condemnation. So, now we look to the Law of God and see God’s Glory in it. “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” As Paul writes, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba Father ’” (Romans 8:15, ESV).

We now long to see the Glory of God, as Moses did. “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

All those who have believed in Jesus have had the veil removed from their faces – you and I now see with unveiled face. We can look to the Scripture and see the Glory of God and the Truth of Salvation in Jesus Alone in God’s Word. We can understand the Scripture because we now know Jesus; the Scripture does not make sense until we see Jesus in it.

And it is only through Jesus that we can see the Glory of God. Human beings cannot look at God the Father, Who is Spirit, and live. We cannot look at God and see Him because He is Spirit; He does not have a physical body that we can see. Except – in Jesus. In Jesus, we see the Glory of God and the Image of God perfectly revealed before us. We now see Him through His Word, and in the Kingdom, we will look upon the Glory of God through Jesus.

The Glory of God was revealed through Jesus on earth, as we read, “And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.’ When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Rise, and have no fear.’ And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only” (Matthew 17:1-8, ESV).

All those who believe in Jesus Alone for Salvation will be able to see Jesus Transfigured – you and I will look upon the Glory of God through Jesus. John writes in his description of the New Jerusalem, “And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its light is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day – and there will be no night there” (Revelation 21:22-25, ESV).

Jesus will banish all darkness and sin from the Kingdom by the very radiance of the Glory of God in Him. And we will be able to look upon the Glory of God and see His Image Who is Jesus – and live.

But we’re not there yet: we “are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” We are being transformed into the Image of Jesus by degrees. God, the Holy Spirit, Who lives in us, is changing the broken Image of God in us into a restored Image. Just as the Light of the Glory of God shone forth from Jesus, because He is the Image of God, the Holy Spirit is purifying us – making us holy – sanctifying us – burning away the dross – removing all our imperfections – degree by degree, until that final day when Jesus brings us into His Glory.

Picture, if you will, a holy fire, burning out from within us – the Refiner’s Fire – which is transforming us into pure gold, to the Glory of God.

One of the ways that God works to transform us into the Image of His Son is through our receiving the sacraments. We will soon meet with Jesus in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. As we receive the bread and the cup, Jesus is spiritually present and gives us grace to be and do all that He has called us to be and do. We are strengthened, matured, and transformed – form one degree to another –as we receive the elements in faith. The bread and the cup are not Jesus and they do not become Jesus; they remain bread and cup, but Jesus meets with us and gives us His Grace, which the Holy Spirit applies to us and works through us that we might be transformed.

So, let us have hope: all those who have believed in Jesus Alone for Salvation are being transformed – from one degree to another, until completion on the last day – to the Glory of God. And we shall behold Jesus in all His Glory, and be with Him, perfected and restored to His Image in the world without end.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for this extraordinary promise – that we who believe are being transformed into Your Image. Help us to work hard by the Power of the Holy Spirit to follow after You and spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the Creation. Keep us in that Hope that our faces are unveiled, and we shall soon see You, Our God, face-to face. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

April Sermons

D.V., I will preach in April:

4/3/11 Communion/Lent 4
 II Corinthians 3:12-18  “Transformed to the Image of God”

4/10/11 Lent 5
 Colossians 3:1-17  “Renewed to the Image of God”

4/17/11 Palm Sunday
 Matthew 21:1-11  “Hosanna”

4/21/11 Communion/Maundy Thursday 7PM
 John 13:1-17; 31b-35  “So They Won’t Understand”

4/22/11 Communion/Good Friday 7PM
 John 18:19-24 (18:1-19:42)  “Open & Secret”

4/24/11 Communion/Easter
 Matthew 28:1-10  “They Worshiped Him”

Do Pastors Work?

At our last prayer meeting, we were discussing the fact that one of our periodic visitors who has been without full-time work for years now had gotten a short-term job.

One of the women at the prayer meeting commented:

“She’s got to find full-time work; she needs it to be able to live and not be stressed-out all the time. She can’t live without working like we can. I’m retired and you’re – well – you know.”

Review: "Defiant Joy"

I have read a little of G. K. Chesterton’s writings, and I have bought others, intending to read more, but I had never read a biography of Chesterton until now. Kevin Belmonte’s Defiant Joy: The Remarkable Life & Impact of G. K. Chesterton is an energetic and thorough overview of the life and writings of Chesterton. In fact, since this book is primarily concerned with his writings, I would call it a literary biography.

The format of the book is not unexpected: it begins with his birth and ends with his death. What was unexpected and a great joy for me, as I believe it is how biography’s of authors ought to be written, is that about one-third of the book is quotations from Chesterton and his works. This forms an extraordinary introduction to the life and character of Chesterton – from his mouth and pen. There is no wondering if the author has misunderstood, because he is quoting the subject himself.

Another highlight of the book is that Belmonte includes quotations from people who knew and interacted with Chesterton, which also adds to an understanding of who this writer was. There is no white-washing of Chesterton’s limitations and imperfections, but there is a revealing of, as the book titles it, “defiant joy.”

Chesterton was a man of joy because he had received the answer to the puzzle of the universe through receiving Jesus Christ. And Chesterton had a mind and a whit to interact substantially with his opponents, yet remain on good terms with them.

It was interesting to learn of the high regard and influence Chesterton’s writing had on C. S. Lewis and his conversion to Christianity. (I have read a good deal of Lewis, but hadn’t picked that up somehow...) This all the more endears Chesterton to me, as I highly regard Lewis.

The book ends with a chronology of important dates in Chesterton’s life, including the publication dates of his major works. Finally, there is a bibliography of works which one, like me, would find worthwhile to follow up on.

Belmonte’s book is very readable, engaging, and makes this reader hungry and joyful to read more of Chesterton.

[This review appears on Amazon.com and my blog. I received this book for free from Thomas Nelson Publishing Group for this review.]